April Check-In: Listening Is Saving

How to Grow Your Money, Grow Your Love for Family, and Grow in Wisdom, Too.

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[green shoots beside a shovel embedded in the soil. Photo by Lukas from Pexels]

April in the Traumatized Family wasn’t nearly as dramatic as March, I’m happy to say. Which makes me a little antsy. As I said recently, now that we have resolved our credit card debt and cash flow issues by switching to a HELOC, I am afraid of getting sloppy and complacent.

It’s been a novel experience going back to using credit cards after a hiatus of nearly eight months, and I’m still not sure I like it, but we’re trying to ride that churning (yet responsible) wave to cash-back glory by charging within our means and paying it back within a few days.

Here’s what’s funny: after years of letting thousands of dollars just sit on cards and accrue monster interest charges month after month and year after year, I can now hardly stand it if one card goes above a hundred dollars for two days while I wait for it to clear so I can pay it. Am I even the same person?

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[Donald Glover doesn’t think so]

Anyway, the big things I have to share are the numbers.

Total debt: $453,000 (down about $5,000 since September; it’s also about to go up by about $17,000 when the roof replacement loan is added in).

Credit card & consumer debt, including our car loan: $7,196 (this is the huge change — our consumer debt was $33,000+ when I started this work in September).

Net worth: $116,000 when you include our house, -$332,000 without the house.

Holy shit. My debt still sucks. Why am I smiling?

I will tell you why: Because those net worth figures represent a gain of $23,000 since September.

Some of that is the market, being extraordinarily kind to our long-term retirement funds despite the fact that the country as a whole is going down the toilet.

But a lot of that is, ahem, me. I did that. I paid some shit down, shifted some other shit, refused to lose my shit, and just generally got us on a firmer footing.

We also got a tax refund from both the state and the feds for the first time in, oh, four years. Sure, it’s partly due to a devastating loss on a young business I had no business investing in more than a decade ago, but I’ll take it.

My husband and son helped too. Like, a lot. Mr. Traumatized took over the cooking and shopping and lopped more than 30 percent of the bills with me, while Traumatized Junior checked in with me from college every single time he wanted to use our money, including for things I’d already assured him he could, like books and groceries.

Maybe that’s the lesson of April: We listened to one another, we learned and cooperated, and we’ve come out so much better.

Stay tuned later this week for a new post that builds on this theme of cooperation and interdependence in personal finance. It’s maybe the best investment I’ve made in years.

Check-In on My 19 Goals for 2019

  1. Increase our saving rate to 10% by the end of the year (with a goal of 20% by the end of 2020). Around 6%
  2. Make sure that every single debt goes down each month, if only by a dollar. YES!
  3. Get my credit card debt usage to 50% (it was 66% on January 1). I’m at 4% now!
  4. In hard numbers, pay down a total of $12,000 in all debt; $6,000 in consumer debt, which includes a car loan. The HELOC caused a sort of reset; we are now only $2,000 toward our goal. Switching strategies and even adding debt for the roof (and possibly our son’s education) means that we will be far, far off from this goal, come December. I’ll have to just accept that this year and do my best.
  5. Abolish two particularly annoying debts of $500 and $700 each. One is gone! The other is at $500
  6. Save a total of $3,000 in emergency funds this year. Past the hafway mark — We’ve got $1,800 toward our goal!
  7. Get a raise at work. This would not happen before July anyway, and through no fault of my own, may not happen at all. Long story.
  8. Find the best possible solution to two goals that could stress us further: a roof replacement and keeping my son in college. The roof is solved, for a $17,000 18-month interest-free period. Son’s college — we should know more in a month or so.
  9. Incur no more debt this summer, which is our most difficult time. We shall see. It looks good, though.
  10. Be more analog each day, and enjoy more hands-on pursuits like reading offline, playing cards and board games, journaling, and coloring. Meh, I am flat out neglecting this goal. I will be turning full attention to this beginning Mother’s Day.
  11. Get more of the 3 M’s: Music, Museums, and Movies (the one splurge we have kept is the trio of Hulu/Amazon Prime/Netflix; we’ll see if all three survive our budget hacking; for now, I plan to maximize our vice). We are watching, and enjoying, more movies, notably two weird ones this weekend: The Congress, with Robin Wright; and The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam. I highly recommend both, just maybe not back to back, and definitely not while ingesting any mind-altering substances unless you’re made of sterner stuff than me.
  12. Perfect my handwriting, using the Spencer method, essentially a form of meditation for me. Gotta get back to this. I am gardening, which while very different, is similarly reconnecting my brain, body, and hands.
  13. Read more women and trans writers of color. I’m reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and it’s absolutely breathtaking, both history and the Great American Novel rolled into one.
  14. Memorize two poems I have loved for years, which is way harder than you’d think. They are Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness” and Jane Hirshfield’s “Rebus.” I’m way behind on this.
  15. Have a holiday fund that includes money to give to charity and to have a New Year’s Day party in 2020. Haven’t yet started this.
  16. Prepare a financial advice document for my son that is relevant to his needs and puts him on a smart path to not fuck up like his mama did. Still behind on this. Definitely a summer project.
  17. Articulate and keep alive the ideas of one day dedicating time to teaching ESL, teaching in prisons, teaching to people who are caregivers, teaching to people without homes, studying herbal medicine, practicing mindfulness, and perhaps learning Reiki at last. What can I say? I still have it in mind.
  18. Have a garden plan and budget for spring 2020. Our budget is laughable, our plan is fuzzy, but already got started this year, and we’re digging in…we are digging in.
  19. Initiate contributions to my company’s HSA plan by September. Holding space for this.

Need to start a budget? Check out these different approaches.

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I’m a 50-something bohemian with a mountain of debt and regrets. Can I dig out before it’s all over? I brake for poets.

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